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* This article is rated NVF -- Not Very Funny
Our world has recently been stunned and saddened by the deaths of some very beloved well-known fellow sojourners on our planet. Princess Diana & Mother Teresa, of course, died within one week of each other. I would guess that never in the history of T.V. have so many people witnessed these funerals and mourned their loss. [I just reread that sentence and I know what you're thinking . . . 'You really went out on a limb on that one Larry, saying that never before had so many people seen the funerals of 2 people who had never died before!']
The night I shared at L.A.'s Lighter Side, Stan Gold *astutely* mentioned that a lot of the attention and sorrow was probably because both women had been remembered for selflessly giving to help others. In Diana's case, it had been more recently as she embraced victims of AIDS, the disabled, lepers, etc. *(I wasn't going to use the word 'astute' for fear you may not know the meaning. Since it is one of my favorite words lately, I decided to give you homework. Look the word up in the dictionary and use it tomorrow in a sentence about this article.)
Mother Teresa was quoted after Diana's death saying, "She helped me to help the poor and that's the most beautiful thing. She was very much concerned about the poor . . . that's why she came close to me." Can you think of a person today who is not a movie star, athlete, wealthy or royalty that was more famous than Mother Teresa? She was a living example of Jesus' words in Matthew. 23:11, "Whoever wants to be the greatest, must be a servant."
So there I was in the VCR repair shop sharing with a lady who was very up front about not being a Christian. She, of course, respected Mother Teresa. I mentioned to her how I was amazed at people who would criticize Mother Teresa for not getting more involved in political reform. She would tell others that she just knew that if someone was hurting or dying, she had to help them. "I don't see the poor first, but Jesus. The worst disease is not leprosy, etc., but feeling unloved and unwanted." So right on cue, as if to prove my point, the VCR lady started to criticize Mother Teresa's adoption policy. Of course, I had the perfect answer . . . the next day. "I sure like Mother Teresa's way of doing things a lot better than my/our way of not doing things!" Sometimes we mistakenly believe that criticizing others relieves us of the responsibility of doing what God has called each of us to do.
They told him he would never walk or talk again.
The most devastating blow to me personally occurred the very next week when a friend of mine, Rich Mullins, died in an automobile accident. More people in the U.S. have come to know the Lord and been touched personally by the life and music of Rich Mullins, than either Mother Teresa or Diana, yet it is sad for me to think that for the majority of America and the world, his death will go virtually unnoticed. Since most of you probably didn't hear much, I wanted to write a few lines in memory of Rich.
I knew Rich in the Cincinnati area around 1980 when we were both local musicians doing concerts. Rich had worked with the youth group at my Mom's church in Erlanger, Ky. I remember riding with him in his car to concerts having some very deep conversations. One gal astutely wrote to a magazine over the Internet a few years ago, "Does anyone in Contemporary Christian Music have deeper lyrics than Rich Mullins? I 'fell' into one of his songs in 1989 and I'm not sure that I've come out yet."
I used to hear Rich casually, nonchalantly, effortlessly bang out the now well known Bach Fugue and go into his song "Sing Your Praise to the Lord." A couple years after that, Amy Grant heard it and made it a #1 hit. Rich recorded 9 albums, had 12 Dove Award nominations and his song "Awesome God" was voted one of the best 3 songs of the decade. I remember hearing it on the radio right after it was released and knew immediately I had to learn it to lead groups in singing to worship our Awesome God. It wasn't until a little later that I found out that Rich had written it. Now, some 9 years later it is virtually impossible to find a group that hasn't sung or heard that song. Another truly anointed song is "Sometimes by Step" ('God you are my God . . .').
I always felt Rich was a truly gifted musical genius. I recently found out the he wrote his 1st song on the piano at age 4! It took me till age 8 just to figure out how to play the radio!
In 4th grade he was asked to play piano for the communion meditation at his church. His piano instructor asked how he did. He replied, "Everyone said they loved it, that I did a great!" His instructor replied, "Then you failed. In worship, your job is to lead people to remember God and draw attention to Him and not yourself." I believe that greatly influenced Rich as he would often close a concert by having the audience sing a praise song to God, close their eyes and sing acappella on the last verse. When everyone opened their eyes, they would discover Rich had quietly slipped off stage so that God would get the glory and not him. After his death, Jim Dunning of Crucible Productions said, "In the industry, he was considered by many to be the greatest writer of our time. But if Rich had his preference, I think he'd prefer not to be remembered. Rich would prefer that the God he believed in be remembered. We need to honor him best . . . by loving the God he spoke about." Michael W. Smith said, "Rich Mullins' life and music impacted me more than any one I know. Nobody on this planet writes songs like he did and I feel like we've lost one of the only true poets in our industry." Michael W. Smith showed up unexpectedly at a memorial service for Rich in Kansas and led 5,000 people in singing "Awesome God" and "Sometimes by Step".
Rich did not consider music to be his 'ministry' and at times looked for ways to get out of the 'industry.' He realized God had gifted him and decided to use music as his 'tentmaking' to supply him with money to be able to live in a trailer on a reservation in New Mexico and pursue what he considered his 'real ministry' . . . working with Native American children. (Matthew 23:11 again!)
Rich knew this world was not his home and often looked forward to that time when he would be "home with the Father." "You should be glad you're alive and look forward to being dead," was his paraphrase of Paul's words in Phil. 1: 21, "To live is Christ, to die is gain!" He had plaques with sayings like, "When a Christian dies, he has just truly begun to live." Of all the songs he wrote, his favorite was called 'Elijah.' He talks about the time when he leaves this planet and how he wants to go out like Elijah. The last line of the chorus says, "And it won't break my heart to say good-bye," . . . but it sure is breaking many of ours. I'm happy for Rich but I'll miss him!
Not long before Diana's death, I got a call on the phone saying Dennis Roesner wanted to see me. Dennis had been in the youth group when I was Youth Pastor and I had only seen him briefly one time in the last 12 years. When I met Dennis, he couldn't walk or talk very well and I tried to make him feel welcome in our youth group. He had foiled the doctors as they told him he would never walk or talk again. Most people did not realize that Dennis' life was altered when a cyst showed up next to his brain sometime around those self-conscious Jr. High years. There was no cure, only temporary relief by drilling into the side of his head to relieve the cyst pressure. Dennis was quite a testimony in the way he made the best of it and lived life to the fullest. He rode the bus to his job at Taco Bell and was very well liked by his peers.
So when I got that call, I was touched and encouraged that he would want to see me after all these years. When I went by, he was asleep. He hadn't been doing very well lately. I had a very uplifting and inspiring talk with his parents. Just before I was to leave, Dennis woke up. I talked to him a little about the car accident that could have taken my life and how I knew God was watching out for us.
I prayed with him and then right about at 'amen' he was back asleep. Sometime over the next few hours, Dennis took that journey to be with Jesus. I got a note from his mom a few days later saying, "I truly believe you may have been the last person that Dennis consciously recognized . . . now Dennis is in God's time!" I was overwhelmed, humbled and in awe to think that I may have been the last person he heard on this earth.
I am not writing all this to simply evoke sorrow. For someone's death to make a difference in your life, it takes more than a sad feeling. How will you live your life differently because of the lives and deaths of these people? Have you unselfishly given of your time to serve and help others, the less fortunate, the hurting while you have time? Think about the last thing you said to someone or did for someone. If they died, would you be content with that? Are you ready to face death and make that journey to the other side?
"When a princess dies, the world mourns. When a saint dies, heaven rejoices!"
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